Revelation 17-18: Who IS That Woman?

"And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I marvelled with great astonishment."Revelation 17:6

Opening prayer: Father, this is a difficult subject. Give us an open heart and mind to hear the message of Your Holy Spirit we pray.

This is a continuation of our series on the Revelation of Jesus the Messiah. If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to study our previous lessons in this series:
Rev. 1: The Revelation of Jesus
Rev. 2-3: I Know You!
Rev. 4-5: Preview of Heaven
Rev. Study: Prophecies of Daniel
Rev. Study: Raptures and Resurrections
Rev. 6: Overview of the Tribulation
Rev. 7: Some Special People
Rev. 8-9: Danger! Rough Road Ahead!
Rev. 10-11: Seven Thunders; Two Witnesses
Rev. 12: The Woman and The Dragon
Rev. 13: The Last-Days Dictator
Rev. 14: The Last Train for Glory
Rev. 15-16: The Last Plagues

I despise religion.

Let me explain. Religions are man-made attempts to come to God on man's own terms.

God hates religion, too. He didn't establish any of them. Instead, God sent His Son to pay a terrible price for your salvation and mine. Now you and I can receive salvation as a free gift, through faith. If this concept catches you by surprise, please spend a few minutes reading the first four lessons in our "Basics" series. Otherwise you won't understand a word of the rest of this lesson. You MUST understand the difference between religion and Christianity.

Isn't Christianity a religion?

Not at all. But there are a lot of religions that call themselves "Christian." Today's lesson describes what religion is really like, and how God feels about religion.

We begin with Revelation 17 verses 1-6:

And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: 2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. 3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. 5 And upon her forehead [was] a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I marvelled with great astonishment.

Last things first: John knew all about evil pagan religions and their temple prostitutes, but he was astonished by this whore. Why?

Let's see what we can learn from this passage:

Now you understand why John was shocked. John had walked with Jesus and knew the purity and simplicity of Christ's doctrine. John had seen the corrupt religious leaders of Jesus' day crucify his Lord. John was shocked to realize that this corrupt religious whore will sell herself as a "Christian" religious system. For money and power, she will give her official blessing to the last-days political dictatorship. And the most evil political leader in the history of the world will enthusiastically promote her brand of "tolerance," and cooperate in murdering "heretics."

Have you had enough of the woman for awhile? Good. Let's see what the angel says about the beast in verses 7 -14:

And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns. 8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. 9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. 11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. 12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. 14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.

We covered these verses in great detail in our lesson on the Last-Days Dictator. But to review:

But teacher, what does this passage tell us about the woman?

For starters, it shows the type of company she keeps. She rides to power on the back of a beast that is empowered by seven demonic creatures and aligned with ten very stupid kings. Would you trust your future to someone like that? Neither would I.

OK, back to the woman, with verses 15-18:

And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.

These verses tell us a great deal about the woman, and enable us to speak with greater authority.

What "great city" does he mean?

Good question. Good men have argued that question for years. There are three very popular theories, each with lots of variations.

First of all, the woman clearly is a picture of religion that calls itself Christian. There are hundreds of religious groups like that already in existence. And after the rapture of the "alive and awake" Christians, all denominations will be operated by the left-behind folks (non-believers and not-yet believers). Some denominations will retain enough loyalty to the Bible to recover and be used by God to fuel a great revival during the first 3.5 years of the tribulation period. Other denominations will just continue to be religious, and will be pawns of the great harlot. We know this will happen.

The second theory holds that the "great city" is the literal city of Babylon. Virtually every type of religious foolishness can trace its roots back to Babylon. In several Bible passages (Isaiah 13 and 14, plus Jeremiah 50 and 51), God predicts the absolute destruction of Babylon at the hands of many nations. This has never happened in history. Babylon has been inhabited continuously for more than four thousand years. It passed from the view of history about the time of Christ, but there have always been villages and people living there. Therefore this city's final destruction must still be future. We absolutely know it will happen.

Most Americans don't realize that Saddam Hussein has been "rebuilding" a three-quarter-scale replica of Babylon for many years. Perched on the ruins of the original city, it has hosted several affairs of state, plus many cultural and religious events. After the rapture of the Church, Babylon could become the center for a New-Age type of international religious movement. Or it could become the headquarters for an ecumenical type of Islam.

What is the third theory?

Many commentators believe the "great city" is Rome or the Vatican City. As a former Catholic (and a forever Irishman), I confess this theory troubles me. It troubles me because I know my Catholic relatives love the Lord Jesus, and because I've known many wonderful born-again Catholic pastors and Bible teachers (including former high-school classmates).

Unfortunately, after the first rapture all these Catholic believers will be taken out of the church. The Christians will be taken out of all the Baptist and Methodist and Episcopal churches, too. After the first rapture, none of the denominations will be as good as we remembered them. The religionists will be in charge. The fate of each denomination will be determined by how strongly it clings to its core values -- and by what the core values are.

To find out the core values of the Roman Catholic Church, we must look to history. If you spend any amount of time doing research, you will discover:

When our Catholic relatives and friends are raptured to heaven, the remaining Catholic leadership (and the left-behind leaders of other denominations) will be offered a chance to take a ride on the New World Order and become officially protected and subsidized by the state. Will they go for it? Unfortunately, history suggests they might.

So which theory do you support, teacher?

There's truth in each of them. We know that a whole lot of religions (not just Catholicism) will play along with the beast and with the great harlot. We know that the harlot's religious system will incorporate many vile doctrines that began in Babylon, and that the literal city of Babylon must be destroyed before the end of the tribulation period. We know that the Roman Catholic Church has backed evil dictators in the past, and might do so again.

But before we come to any conclusions, let's see what Revelation chapter 18 says on this subject.

Chapter 18, verses 1-3 say:

And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. 2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. 3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.

In chapter 17, we saw the ten stupid kings destroy religious Babylon and burn her with fire. Now God makes it clear that He will supernaturally ensure the complete destruction of "Babylon the great." The angel making the announcement is so powerful and so happy that the entire earth "was lightened with his glory." This mighty angel again declares that Babylon has made all nations drunken and confused by all her religious seductions. Kings of the earth have pretended to seek her favor. Notice a new element: the merchants of the earth have become rich by catering to her. More on this subject later.

Now notice a peculiar plea in verses 4-5:

And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. 5 For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

Whatever or wherever "Babylon the great" might be, God has a few souls there that He calls "My people," even this late in the Great Tribulation period. Are these the God-fearing Catholics in Rome? Are these Jewish people living in Iraq near the physical city of Babylon? I don't know. Maybe both. But please note the tenderness and mercy of the God we serve. Even though He has stored up wrath for 4,500 years against Babylon, He is willing that none should perish but that all should come to eternal life. Even this late in the Great Tribulation, He is holding back His judgment and still offering mercy. Amazing. How could anyone prefer the harlot to Him?

Verses 6-8 tell us more about the harlot's future:

Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. 7 How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. 8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.

Now we have another new element to consider: her destruction will come about in a single day. And she shall be utterly burned with fire. As she has tormented the saints of God, so shall she receive double torment.

Verses 9-14 begin a very peculiar lament:

And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, 10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. 11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: 12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, 13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. 14 And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.

According to verse 9, the ten stupid kings are not symbolic of all earthly rulers during the last days. Other kings will miss the whore -- especially the way she manipulated her subjects to make them cooperate with the kings.

Verse 10 shows the kings "standing afar off for the fear of her torment." Are they afraid of radiation poisoning? Maybe. That might be how the ten stupid kings carry out God's judgment. But God doesn't need help from man-made weapons. God could easily divert a fiery swarm of meteorites that would keep the city smoking hot for several days afterward. Still, nuclear weapons are very likely to be involved here.

Verse 11 begins a very long, detailed description of the types of merchandise that the merchants sold to the harlot. Why is this list so long? Because God is making it clear that the merchants really sold these physical things to the harlot and her organization. This is not poetic foolishness.

Just as the kings stood afar off in verse 10, the merchants do likewise in verses 15-19:

The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! 17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, 18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city! 19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

Here again, God repeats the themes of sudden destruction ("in one hour") and mourners standing at a safe distance "for the fear of her torment."

In contrast to the weeping of the merchants, please note the reaction in heaven as described in verses 20-24:

Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her. 21 And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all. 22 And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; 23 And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.

All of heaven will rejoice at the destruction of religious and commercial Babylon. During its "glory" years, Babylon was both a religious and a commercial center. To this day, elements of Babylonish worship (including decorated "Christmas" trees and flat "communion" wafers and decorated "Easter/Ishtar" eggs) can be found in most Christian churches. God has pledged to utterly destroy all traces of Babylon and its vile practices from the earth. And He will.

Will the city of Rome be destroyed too? Is the Roman Catholic Church the harlot of these chapters?

That depends on what the church leaders do after the rapture and after the beast rises to power. In the past, the church has behaved like the harlot. But if the left-behind leaders (of ALL denominations) repent and seek the forgiveness of God, God will act accordingly. We know for certain that God will incinerate the physical city of Babylon. All those individuals and denominations who fail to heed God's call to "come out from her" will share in her destruction.

Special Note to our Roman Catholic Friends

We know that you are in a difficult position, especially as we get closer to the last-days events. Perhaps you are reading this AFTER the first rapture, and are wondering whom to believe. If the rapture happened today, would all your on-fire charismatic friends and pastors be missing? Would nearly all the Church's hierarchy still be in place? Would the Church still be unwavering in its support of its many doctrines that clearly contradict the Bible?

Personally, I don't care which church building you sit in next Sunday morning. However, I passionately urge you to trust your eternal future to Jesus Christ and NOT to any denomination.

What must I do to be saved?

Please read the Bible yourself, especially the gospels, the book of Acts and the book of Romans. See our Basics lessons for guidance. Please come directly to Jesus, put your trust in His saving grace, and pray for Him to be your Saviour and Lord. Invite the Holy Spirit to come into your heart, that He might do His perfect work in your life. Then attend any church you want to next Sunday. But please do continue studying the Bible yourself, and enjoying the wonderful personal fellowship that Jesus offers to you.

Jesus loves you, personally and passionately. His love and power are the best protection you have against the forces of darkness that will soon rise to power here on earth. His truth will make you immune to the seductive lies of the beast and the False Prophet and the harlot.

My hope is that you've already come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, the true Messiah of Israel. If you aren't sure of your relationship with Jesus, please click the "mail-to" link below to send us an e-mail. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can.

Now two quick offers before we close:

Closing Prayer: Lord, there are so many pressures to compromise our principles for the sake of political correctness or our church traditions. Help us to stand up for the truth in sincerity and humility of heart. Help us to flee from religion and cling to the feet of our Risen Savior, we pray. Amen.

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Hey, teacher! Can you give us an overall timeline for all the tribulation events? I'm getting confused about what happens before what.

Welcome to the club: nobody (including you and me) can know the exact chronology, but we can develop some guidelines by comparing these Scriptures to other prophetic passages. The problem arises because the book of Revelation is arranged by subject, not by strict chronology. Within each chapter or major division, the events are arranged in sequence. But these events might happen before, after, or concurrently with events revealed in later chapters. For example, both the sixth seal of Chapter 6 and the seventh trumpet in Chapter 11 announce the beginning of the Day of the Lord, at the very end of the Great Tribulation.

Having said all that, we can make some cautious generalizations about chronology.

A Guide to Last-Days Events

Here are some general guidelines based on material we've already covered:

In upcoming lessons, we will add more significant events to the above outline. Click here to return to the lesson.

Hey, teacher! I don't agree with your conclusions!

Good! Please don't be satisfied with ANYBODY's explanation, especially mine. My goal is to spur you on to do further study on your own. In fact, nothing would make me happier than to hear that you were so outraged by my lessons that you spent days studying these Scriptures trying to prove me wrong.

All I ask is one thing: Spend your time studying the Bible. Don't waste your time reading books ABOUT the Bible, except for fun. (Hint: You will save yourself a lot of grief (and money) if you avoid commentaries.) Instead, pray for the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind. Then make up your own lists and charts based on your own personal study of the Bible.

A few study helps are worth purchasing. Look up key words and phrases in your Strong's Concordance and in your Vines' Dictionary of New Testament Words. Get the Greek/English Interlinear text by George Ricker Berry, so you can get a flavor for the word-by-word literal translation of the Greek. Spend the majority of your time studying in the King James Version or the New King James translation. These two are the most accurate. (Note: Although the paraphrase versions (Living Bible, NIV) are very readable for the Old Testament and helpful for devotional studies, they are less accurate in the New Testament.) Follow up on the margin notes in your Bible, looking for related passages and concepts. Take everybody's explanations (including mine) with a grain of salt. Click here to return to the conclusion of the lesson.